New for review, soft shell-uppered version of Merrell's Barefoot shoe.
We've been using a pair of Merrell's Trail Glove 'barefoot' shoes for a while now, but while the breathable mesh uppers are spot on for dry, hot, summer days, they don't really agree too well with the damp and cold of autumn and winter use.
The Same But Different...
Enter the Sonic Glove, a near identical shoe with the same basic structure - or lack of it - but with uppers made from a soft shell-type windproof and highly water resistant material. We could, incidentally, have opted for a waterproof Gore-Tex liner version, the Embark Glove, but our experience with trail shoes is that it makes more sense to sacrifice a little water resistance in exchange for better breathability and faster drying times when they do, inevitably, get wet as water runs down your legs or is wicked by your socks. Or, of course, you simply run through a puddle.
Other than the uppers, the shoe is basically the same as a Trail Glove, which means no mid-sole structure beyond a 1mm forefoot plate, just 4mm of EVA cushioning and 0˚ ball to heel drop. Underfoot there's the same Vibram Trail Glove outsole, which we've found gives excellent grip on rock and drier terrain, though it's less happy in really sloppy stuff.
The fit, as ever, lives up to the name with Merrell's Omni-Fit lacing system making it easy to tension the laces to taste. And as with the Trail Glove, there's plenty of forefoot room in there too mixed with a snug heel fit for us at least.
Love Or Hate
Going beyond the specifics, barefoot shoes seem to be something that people either love or hate with a passion. Our experience, in a nut-shell, is that you have to make a commitment to them to really reap advantages from them, which will probably mean altering your running style to a more forefoot-orientated strike rather than a heel-striking one - Merrell actually has an app out to help you do that, see links below.
For longer runs or walks, the lack of cushioning can be an issue and we found descending on rocky terrain problematic - you need to be precise in your footwork or risk landing instep first on a sharp edge. On smoother ground, that's less of an issue.
If you're interested, but a little put off by the sheer minimalism of 'barefoot' shoes like the Sonic Glove, Merrell has a 'Barefoot Access' shoe out this spring, which uses 8mm of padding, but still has zero drop, for a little more cushioning. Or check out minimalist running shoes like KEEN's lightweight A86 TR.
Anyway, we shall introduce the Sonic Glove to the Peak District's late winter sludge and let you know how it gets on and, if they ever arrive, how it copes with warmer conditions too. Price is £95.
More Merrell info at www.merrell.com.